Guiana Shield indigenous leaders discussing Amazon Basin protection


By Vanessa Narine, Guyana Chronicle

Date of publication: 
17 April 2009

DELEGATES to the Guiana Shield Regional Meeting of Indigenous Leaders are continuing discussions, begun Monday at Regency Suites Hotel in Hadfield Street, Georgetown, on the critical importance of the Amazon Basin.

Addressing the opening of the five-day deliberations, Mr. Trevor Stevenson, Executive Co-Director of Amazon Alliance, pointed out that the sustainability of the Amazon is directly linked to the survival of its indigenous communities.

“The Amazon is not just a forest. It is the home of indigenous people, it is the University of Indigenous People and the very centre indigenous peoples’ way of life,” he asserted.

The Amazon Basin spans the borders of eight countries and one overseas territory and is the world’s largest river basin, the source of one-fifth of all free-flowing fresh water on Earth and its rainforests are the planet’s largest and most luxuriant.

Those, among other factors, are under consideration with the focus also on infrastructure, mining and climate change.

Some 45 representatives are participating in the discourse that is organised by three-level indigenous grouping of the Guiana Shield Region, including the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) of Guyana; Organisatie Van Inheemsen (OIS) of Suriname and the French des Organisation Autochtones de Guyana Village Amerindien (FOAG) of French Guiana.

Stevenson said the fast destruction of the Amazon is visible and accelerating and the major threats to it include infrastructure development, extraction and mining, as well as climate change, all interlinked, that will see the devastation if not controlled.

He said, while infrastructural development is good, it is not being monitored adequately as a result of weak governance and enforcement.

Because of this, Stevenson said, there is deforestation as the forests are cleared and replaced with industrial agriculture.

Another point of concern is the extraction and mining which often results in pollution and proffers no benefits to the indigenous people.

Small scale and large scale mining, both produce negative impacts and the activities are not being regulated appropriately between the Guiana Shield countries,” he posited.

Continuing to highlight the most significant threat to the Amazon.

Stevenson said:“Many people see climate change as something that is in the future, as something that is coming but the effects of it are already happening throughout the Amazon and the world.”

He said climate change has affected migration of various animal populations and weather patterns, which affect the harvests reaped by indigenous people, increases temperature and decreases rainfall, directly impacting the sustainability of forests.

Stevenson contended that, with the increase in temperature and decrease in rainfall, the Amazon would see the occurrence of permanent droughts and forests turn to savannah and, finally, sand.

He warned that, in another 10 to 20 years, with the amount of deforestation, the Amazon will be at its tipping point and the entire ecosystem will collapse.

Coordinator General of the Organisations Indigenous to the Amazonian Basin (COICA), Mr. Egberto Tabo Chipanavi said the indigenous peoples’ position in response to the threats to the Amazon is simply to have a united voice in advocacy on the international stage.

He said COICA’s vision is to see an international organisation that coordinates the efforts and ideals of the nationalities, communities and indigenous organisations of the Amazon, to promote, defend and exercise the rights for life, as an integral part of nature and the universe.

In this respect, Chipanavi said COICA’s efforts have included workshops, development of mechanisms to make decisions on common concerns of organisations and data banks to work on mega projects, establishment of means to work in all environments and on the international front and development of a strategy to be enforced on Amazon communities.